Famed Pakistani Filmmaker Sparks Online Debate: Can a Facebook Friend Request be Considered Harassment?

Img: SOC Films 
Tales of harassment either sexual or otherwise have dominated headlines in recent months as the old status quo is broken down and brave victims, generally females, come forward in a unified stance that proudly states to the world at large, “We will not stand for this any longer.” Deplorable individuals such as Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein for example, who had been left to run rampant and unchecked by industry fellows and law enforcement officials alike for years and caused untold distress for many as a result, has been dragged kicking and screaming into the light, his past deeds laid bare for all to see. It is truly inspiring to see so many individuals standing up for what they believe and refusing to bow to these societal dregs, however one outspoken Pakistani filmmaker has now sparked a heated online debate centred around a seemingly simple question – can a Facebook friend request be legitimately considered a form of harassment?

The filmmaker in question is Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who has garnered much acclaim in the past for her documentaries covering the subjects of honour-killings and acid-attack victims, often exposing and challenging the violent and misogynistic cultural traditions still prevalent throughout certain pockets of Pakistani society. The debate was first ignited a little over a week ago when the sister of Obaid-Chinoy visited the local hospital, following which she received a friend request from the doctor who had examined her. Obaid-Chinoy then took to Twitter to vent her fury at what she perceived to be “unethical” behaviour, describing the interaction as “harassment” – as can be seen in the below screenshots of the now-deleted Tweets:

Obaid-Chinoy’s words divided her followers and online critics, with many Pakistanis angrily reacting with the claim that she had clearly overreacted. Others meanwhile showed her support, and presented the abusive reaction garnered from those who disagreed with her as further evidence of her critics’ apparent misogyny.

Among her most vocal of critics and detractors was journalist Ali Moeen Nawazish, who took to Facebook with his own response in which he asserted that Obaid-Chinoy’s act of comparing a social media request to harassment was nothing short of “ridiculous”; an opinion that seems to be shared by a great numbers of online commentators. “What’s next,” he added. “Asking for a pen is harassment… Looking at someone for three seconds will be harassment???”

He continued to assert that her claim was in fact “taking away from real victims of harassment” due to its absurd nature.

Reports indicate that the doctor in question is currently under suspension while an internal investigation into the allegations is conducted.

Obaid-Chinoy attracted further criticism with her post not due to her accusation of harassment, but as a result of the particular phrasing she employed. Some argued that her use of the phrase “wrong women in the wrong family” suggested a somewhat elitist mind-set, and that her body language in publicly-available photographs of her with certain well-known male figures rendered her a hypocrite for making claims of harassment.

The backlash generated in response to her accusations forced Obaid-Chinoy to release another somewhat lengthy statement in which she attempted to clarify the meaning behind her words. In this statement she explained that her use of the phrase “wrong women in the wrong family” was meant to refer to the fact that “women in my family are strong” and that she had not meant to “suggest a sense of privilege or power”. She admitted that her past words may have been poorly chosen, yet reaffirmed her belief that the actions of the doctor in question amounted to a violation of trust and a breach of ethical standards within the medical community which ultimately culminated in what she perceives as a clear case of harassment. You can read her full statement below:

While I find myself somewhat unable to fully agree with Obaid-Chinoy’s definition of harassment in this case, I certainly agree that the actions of her sister’s doctor do present as an inappropriate breach of both ethical standards and doctor-patient privilege, as well as a violation of the aforementioned trust the two parties are supposed to share. We are however eager to hear your opinions on this divisive matter, so let us know in the comments section below.

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